Sheltie Planet Blog | The Home of Shetland Sheepdogs

20 Shetland Sheepdog Questions & Answers

Here are the most frequently asked questions about Shelties. Learn about temperament, intelligence, lifespan, health, grooming, puppies, breeders, adoption, training, and more.

Shelties: The Complete Pet Owner's Guide Ebook

1. What's the Sheltie temperament like?

The Sheltie temperament is generally intelligent, sensitive, playful, observant, and affectionate. Without proper socialization as puppies, Shelties have a tendency to be shy and anxious, so it's important to introduce them to all kinds of people when young to develop their confidence.

Shelties are well known for their barking. This is not a quiet dog breed. They bark when they're excited or trying to alert you to something in the environment. The good news is barking can be minimized through training.

In addition to barking, Shelties also love to sing! In exploring their vocal abilities, some Shelties can find some hilarious yowly voices that sits somewhere between a whine and a howl. When it happens, it's totally adorable.

In terms of temperament, Shelties also make excellent lap dogs. They form close bonds with their owners and don't like to see you leave. They're very affectionate too: they love to nuzzle and receive endless ear scratches and belly rubs. Piper, our sweetie Sheltie, used to sit on my lap for ages while I watched TV in the evenings. Even Howard, our bossy Sheltie, loved to snuggle up when it was time for bed.

The Sheltie temperament is sensitive, quirky, playful, observant, and eager

The Sheltie temperament is sensitive, quirky, playful, observant, and affectionate

2. How long do Shetland Sheepdogs live for?

Shelties live for 12-13 years on average. The popular idea that one dog year is equivalent to seven human years is somewhat simplified; the scale goes more like this:

Dog Years Human Years
1 15
4 34
8 51
12 69
16 87

Extend your Sheltie's lifespan by feeding him nutritious, high quality food; allowing him to run off the leash for at least 30-60 minutes per day; stimulating him mentally through training, dog tricks, and chews; keeping his teeth clean; and taking him for annual vet checks and vaccinations.

Like all dogs, Shetland Sheepdogs are balanced psychologically when they receive both discipline and affection in good measure. Create structure and boundaries when they test the limits, and offer lots of love and affection to reinforce good behaviors.

Shetland Sheepdogs live for 12-13 years on average

Shetland Sheepdogs live for 12-13 years on average

3. Are Shelties barkers?

Shelties can be very vocal dogs. That includes barking, whining, singing, and howling! They only make noise when they have good reason (in their minds), so set the ground rules early when it comes to alarm barking. Train them to give only one or two alarm barks, and rule out endless barking frenzies as an acceptable behavior.

If your Sheltie's barking has gotten out of hand, see How to Stop Your Sheltie Barking for three distinct situations and solutions. Bear in mind that barking can be caused by anxiety. If you have an anxious Sheltie, check out the ThunderShirt for Shelties which is proven to induce a calmer, more secure temperament in nervous dogs.

Shelties bark to alert you to perceived threats, as well as to express joy

Shelties bark to alert you to perceived threats, as well as to express joy

4. Are Shelties intelligent?

Shelties are the sixth smartest dog breed in the world. This makes them very easy to train, learning new commands in as little as five repetitions. Frequently eager to please, they also excel in obedience and agility trials.

However, this intelligence also means they require more mental stimulation than most dogs. Shelties need daily mental stimulation through walks, off-leash runs, games, socialization, chew toys, dental chew, and any kind of job you can create around the house.

Fail to stimulate your Sheltie's brain and you'll find you have a bored, frustrated pooch. This manifests in unhealthy behaviors like excessive barking, running in circles, obsessive tracking, destructive chewing, and other anxious habits. If you don't have the time to attend to your dog's mental wellness, a Sheltie is not for you.

Shelties are the sixth smartest dog breed in the world

Shelties are the sixth smartest dog breed in the world

5. Do Shetland Sheepdogs get along with children?

Shelties make great family dogs, provided they're socialized with children when young. If you plan to rescue an adult Sheltie, test her reaction to your children first. If she appears physically tense, backs away, barks, or tries to nip at your kids, you may have a difficult rehabilitation ahead. Younger children, in particular, are less accommodating to your Sheltie's emotions. Toddlers make sudden noises, invade personal space, and grab fur, which overwhelms nervous Shelties and leaves them continually unsettled. Such Shelties are better suited to homes with calm, sensitive adults.

The good news is that many well-socialized Shelties can be highly affectionate and welcoming to the attention of people. When you bring a Sheltie puppy home, you have a window of a few months to desensitize her to all kinds of people and situations. She can be fearless at this age, throwing herself into new situations, and as long as she has positive experiences, she will respond in a healthy way to these stimuli for the rest of her life.

Shelties are real softies and get along well with children if they aren't afraid

Shelties are real softies and get along well with children if they aren't afraid

6. How much exercise do Shetland Sheepdogs need?

Exercise your Sheltie for at least 30-60 minutes per day. This is the standard minimum for any dog breed. Take them on all outdoor activities where dogs are allowed to prevent boredom and stimulate their active brains. Physical and mental exercise is one of the main joys in life for any dog, so attend to this need as much as you can.

If you have a good outdoor space, encourage them to use it in addition to walks. Shelties love to live on farms, but are also suited to apartment living if you make the effort to get them out and about daily. Time to run off the leash is essential.

If your Sheltie spins, whines, or is obviously bored, it's a strong indication to go for a walk. Imagine life from their perspective: they aren't stimulated by computers, TV, books, work, conversation, and all the stuff that keeps us occupied. Their first line of stimulation comes from you. Shelties were bred originally to be watchdogs—to watch over and herd sheep—which explains why pet Shelties sit at the window for hours to this day. It's their most natural and instinctive job.

In addition to physical exercise, give your Sheltie mental exercise by training new commands and tricks, exposing her to other dogs and people, and give her jobs to do around the house. Nervous Shelties can also be calmed with a ThunderShirt which is proven to induce a sense of emotional security.

Exercise your Sheltie for at least 30-60 minutes per day

Exercise your Sheltie for at least 30-60 minutes per day

7. How do you groom a Shetland Sheepdog?

At around five months old, your dog will develop his thick double coat and you'll need to start your Sheltie grooming routine. The adult coat is made up of a soft, woolly undercoat for insulation, and a long, coarser outercoat for protection from the elements. The coat continues to change and develop until Shelties are about three years old.

Shelties shed a reasonable amount of hair, although their diminutive size means it's not nearly as much as large, long-haired breeds like Labradors and German Shepherds. A deep weekly brushing stops most of it from ending up on the living room couch. However, if you procrastinate on grooming, expect a lot more hair and fur to accumulate around the house.

Thoroughly groom your Sheltie for 30-60 minutes every week. A quick daily detangling of the wispy hair behind the ears is an added bonus. Most people enjoy grooming their Shelties once they get down it it as grooming is a tactile, bonding experience. Just be very gentle and calm, and your Sheltie will come to accept it as bonding time too. See How to Groom Your Sheltie for a complete step-by-step guide.

Note that male Shelties blow their coats once a year just before summer, where frequent grooming is needed to keep up with a higher rate of shedding. Female Shelties also shed before summer, as well as after every heat cycle, which hits every 6-8 months in her reproductive years. You can eliminate heat cycles and the related shedding, as well as certain diseases of the reproductive organs, by spaying a female Sheltie in her first year. See The Pros and Cons of Spaying for a detailed overview.

Shelties need weekly grooming for healthy skin and fur

Shelties need weekly grooming for healthy skin and fur

8. How often do you bathe a Sheltie?

Bathe your Sheltie whenever he needs it; a general guideline is every 1-2 months. Shetland Sheepdogs keep clean by licking and grooming themselves, especially their paws. They're also less prone than other breeds to roll around in animal feces and other nasty scents. So there's no need to go overboard. Ib fact, if you bathe a Sheltie too often, it strips away the natural oils on the skin, causing dryness, flaking, and itching.

When bathing a Sheltie, use lukewarm water to shower him in the tub. Get the nozzle right against his skin, otherwise the waterproof coat protects the undercoat from getting wet. Take care to avoid spraying water in his ear holes; use cotton balls if you're worried. And use a shampoo designed for dogs: TropiClean's PerfectFur Dog Shampoo is ideal for the Sheltie's thick double coats.

After bathing, gently pat him with a towel (rubbing damages wet fur) and allow him to dry off naturally indoors. If your furniture can't take a wet Sheltie rubbing against it, carefully blow dry the coat on a low setting, parting the fur as you go.

Shampoo your Sheltie every 1-2 months

Shampoo your Sheltie every 1-2 months

9. How do you clean a Sheltie's teeth?

Most people ignore cleaning their dog's teeth until it's too late. Some 85% of dogs over three years old already have gum disease, which is a major cause of tooth decay and tooth loss. Eventually your vet will need to perform a deep cleaning of the teeth and gums, and/or extract the diseased teeth, both of which require a general anesthetic.

There are four easy things you can do to avoid this painful and expensive treatment.

1. Brush with Dog Toothpaste. Manually remove food debris with Vet's Best Enzymatic Dog Toothpaste and Toothbrush. Start very gently and allow your Sheltie to get used to the sensation.

2. Offer Daily Dental Chews. Mechanically remove tartar with daily dental chews such as Virbac Oral Hygiene Chews. The antiseptic enzymes combine with the scrubbing action of chewing to clean the teeth and gums.

3. Use a Natural Water Additive. Prevent plaque and tartar accumulating with TropiClean Fresh Breath Plaque Remover added to the water bowl. The natural ingredients like green tea are antibacterial and prevent the build up of plaque and tartar.

4. Use a Natural Food Additive. Remove plaque and tartar by adding powdered sea kelp like PlaqueOff Powder to your Sheltie's food. It's ideal for dogs who already have mild plaque build up.

10. What's the best dog food for a Sheltie?

Quality nourishment in the right amount will help your Sheltie live a long and healthy life. I've written a detailed article on What Is The Best Dog Food? which makes for essential reading.

In summary, if you choose dry kibble, know that cheap brands use corn fillers which fail to provide sufficient protein. What's more, certain additives are known to be toxic. Avoid any dog food that lists in its ingredients:

  • Meat and bone meal
  • Meat by-products
  • Poultry by-product meal
  • Propylene glycol
  • Ethoxyquin
  • BHA & BHT
  • Mineral oxides
  • Sulfates

Instead, seek out dog foods with a specific meat source at the top of the ingredients list, as well as natural preservatives and additives further down:

  • Beef meal
  • Lamb meal
  • Poultry meal
  • Vitamins E & C
  • Tocopherols
  • Chelated minerals
  • If you're looking for a shortcut, I recommend Hill's Science Diet which meets all of the above criteria. They have different formulas depending on the age and size of your dog, as different dogs have different nutritional needs.

    11. Should I spay / neuter my Sheltie?

    It's a devastating truth that, in the US alone, an unwanted dog is euthanized every 10 seconds. That's millions of dogs every year. And it's the result of three things: puppy mills, backyard breeding, and unplanned pet pregnancies.

    As animal lovers, we can help by de-sexing our dogs. It's normal to feel weird about de-sexing your dog. We don't do it to humans, so how can we justify neutering a beloved canine member of the family?

    It's important to recognize these are pets, not people. We often treat dogs as our children, but our dogs will never lead independent lives, get married, and raise their own families. A dog's purpose in life is companionship. In return, we take care of their needs and make the best decisions for them.

    If you own a male Sheltie, I urge you to read The Pros and Cons of Neutering Your Sheltie. For female Shelties, see The Pros and Cons of Spaying. I have laid out all the major considerations regarding your Sheltie's health.

    Spaying and neutering are widely considered the responsible choice

    Spaying and neutering are widely considered the responsible choice

    12. What are common health problems in Shelties?

    Purebred dogs come from a limited gene pool, which makes them more prone to hereditary health issues. This is another reason why breeding Shelties should be left to the experts who take careful measures to avoid passing on defective genes.

    Shelties originating from backyard breeding or puppy farms are most likely to have genetic health issues, in addition to infectious and parasitic diseases.

    Inherited diseases in Shelties include:

    • Patellar Luxation (PL) - a floating knee cap
    • Hip Dysplasia (HD) - malformation of the hip joint
    • Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) - deformities of the eye
    • Dermatomyositis (DMS) - an inflammatory disease
    • Von Willebrande's Disease (VWD) - a blood clotting disorder

    Some Shelties are also vulnerable to complications from certain drugs. This is caused by a mutation on the MDR1 gene which affects how drugs are broken down in the body.

    Obesity is also a common health problem in Shelties. It's easy to overfeed such a small dog and not notice the weight gain under all the fur. Excess weight strains the heart and joints, and reduces their ability to exercise. Feel the sides of your Sheltie's chest under the fur. You should be able to feel a thin layer of fat, but any more than this means your Sheltie is overweight.

    For a detailed look at health issues in Shelties, including early symptoms, see Common Health Problems in Shelties.

    As a purebreed, Shelties are prone to certain hereditary diseases

    As a purebreed, Shelties are prone to certain hereditary diseases

    13. What's the best way to train a Sheltie?

    Shelties are intelligent, sensitive dogs, making them highly responsive to positive reinforcement. This simply means praising all correct behaviors in the moment.

    Shelties learn quickly with simple, clear instruction. They can learn new commands in as little as five repetitions. As dogs go, you have an easy job teaching your Sheltie tricks and obedience, and eliminating unwanted behaviors by nipping them in the bud.

    In particular, clicker training works great on Shelties as they're so eager and quick to learn. In time, you can do away with the clicks and they respond to commands automatically.

    Learn more about housebreaking and obedience training for Shelties in my ebook, Shelties: The Complete Pet Owner's Guide.

    Train your Sheltie with simple demonstrations and positive reinforcement

    Train your Sheltie with simple demonstrations and positive reinforcement

    14. How do you housebreak a Sheltie puppy?

    Housebreaking a puppy can be one of the major challenges of dog ownership, particularly for first-time owners. It means teaching your Sheltie to pee and poop outdoors and not all over your prized living room rug.

    You'll need puppy training pads, some delicious dog treats for rewards, and carpet stain remover for the inevitable mistakes.

    The most popular method starts with teaching your puppy to eliminate on puppy training pads inside. You'll need to keep a watchful eye and be ready to correct him or praise him every time he goes in the right place. Housebreaking always involves a few spills and messes, but you have to accept that from the outset when you bring home a baby animal.

    By the time he's four months old, your puppy's bladder and bowels are large enough and strong enough to transfer the business outdoors. This can be a simple and very rewarding transition for both of you.

    Housebreaking begins the very first day you bring your puppy home, so be sure to do your research ahead of time. See Shelties: The Complete Pet Owner's Guide for a step by step guide to housebreaking your Sheltie from day one.

    Housebreaking your puppy takes place between 2-4 months

    Housebreaking your puppy takes place between 2-4 months

    15. How do you socialize a Sheltie puppy?

    Like all dog breeds, Sheltie puppies should spend the first 8 weeks of life with their mom and the rest of the litter. This teaches them important socialization skills within their own species like how to share, how to play nice, and what actions are too rough. If they don't learn these skills, they can develop lifelong behavioral problems with other dogs.

    The second stage of socialization comes from 8-16 weeks, when puppies settle in with their new families and form strong attachments with humans. Start to socialize your puppy with people from the day you bring him home. This is true for all dog breeds, but Shelties are especially sensitive, and failure to socialize when young can result in severe nervousness and anxiety.

    First give him positive play experiences with you and your immediate family. He may be nervous in the first few days so go slowly initially. After the first week, expand his social horizons to include more friends and family in multiple locations. Host gatherings at your home to get him used to lots of people at once. And don't forget to invite noisy kids!

    Take your Sheltie to puppy classes and work on obedience training to build a stronger bond between you. These dedicated sessions can make a big difference.

    Once he's had his final vaccinations, he can go to lots of public places: walk around town, sit outside coffee shops, visit the dog park, go on a road trip, and meet all kinds of other animals. Go all out during this phase. Expose him to every scenario he's going to encounter in his lifetime, so he can meet them all in confidence.

    Sheltie puppies need high levels of socialization

    Sheltie puppies need high levels of socialization

    16. How do you teach a Sheltie to swim?

    Swimming is an excellent way to keep your Shetland Sheepdog fit, especially if she develops arthritis as she ages where running can hurt her joints. Swimming is also a great positive experience to give her as a puppy so she doesn't have the stress of fearing water her whole life. Cue lots of fun beach days or trips to the lake!

    Some Shelties love water, while others hate the wet stuff. It all comes down to their natural inclination for adventure and positive exposure when they are young. Follow the steps laid out in e How to Teach Your Sheltie to Swim, which includes safety issues for smaller Shelties and gradual desensitization for water-fearing dogs.

    Consider teaching your Sheltie to swim early in life

    Consider teaching your Sheltie to swim early in life

    17. Do multiple Shetland Sheepdogs get along together?

    Many of our readers have multiple Shelties and absolutely love it. Shelties are an addictive breed; once you discover their lovable nature it's hard to stop at one.

    If one Sheltie is a joy, then two is double the fun. Having two dogs of the same breed means they play together extremely well. They have the same energy levels, enjoy the same herding based games, and being matched in size they won't accidentally hurt each other when pouncing and scruffing together.

    What's more, as highly sensitive dogs, Shelties really don't like being left alone. Having a companion dog to hang around with while you're out of the house is ideal.

    The only downside of having multiple Shelties is they can bark each other up. If one dog hears a cat screech in the distance, he'll bark and then other will bark automatically. Getting a handle on barking is essential when you have two or more Shelties!

    18. Where can I find a Sheltie for adoption?

    There are many rescue Shelties in need of forever homes. They've already been through a lot in their lives, including abuse or neglect, and almost always abandonment by the families they thought would be with them forever.

    You can change their world. Find a Sheltie rescue near you and help rehabilitate a sensitive Sheltie dog so they can enjoy the life they deserve.

    There are many Shelties that need adoption in the US

    There are many Shelties that need adoption in the US

    19. Where can I find Sheltie puppies for sale?

    Before you buy a Sheltie puppy, please consider adopting an adult Sheltie first. Your new best friend may already be waiting at your local rescue, desperate for a secure and loving home.

    If you have your heart set on a puppy, find a professional Sheltie breeder near you. Never buy a puppy from a pet store or an online listing without professional kennel details. This simply fuels the horrendous puppy mill trade, and you're likely to take on a puppy with infectious and inherited diseases, as well as behavioral problems.

    Professional breeders aim to produce the most healthy, well-adjusted dogs which represent the ideal breed standard. They do this to maintain the continuation of the breed we know and love. Only the dogs not suitable for breeding are re-homed as pets.

    Bear in mind that most breeders may only produce one or two litters each year, with the average litter being 4-6 puppies. If there is high demand for Sheltie puppies in your area, you may need to put your name on a waiting list.

    Only ever buy Sheltie puppies from legitimate professional breeders

    Only ever buy Sheltie puppies from legitimate professional breeders

    20. Should I breed my Shetland Sheepdog?

    Never breed a pet Sheltie, or any pet dog for that matter. There are enough unwanted dogs in the world without pet owners adding to the mix.

    Professional breeding requires a huge amount of time, knowledge, and resources to create healthy genetic lines. It means entering potential sires and dams into competitions to identify champions; the best examples of the breed. It also requires genetic testing to identify inherited diseases in breeding pairs. The goal is to selectively breed the healthiest Shelties with the best temperaments to create the breed we have come to love so dearly.

    None of this happens in cases of pet breeding, backyard breeding, puppy mills, and pet stores. Not only are the puppies produced more likely to carry inherited diseases, they're also born solely for the pet trade, at a time when millions of unwanted dogs are euthanized every year. And if you turn a blind eye to that, instead focusing on how cute it would be to have a litter of puppies, imagine then having to give those puppies up.

    Always leave breeding to the experts and seriously consider getting your male Sheltie neutered or your female Sheltie spayed at the ideal age for the compelling individual and societal benefits. To learn more about the real consequences of unethical breeding, see 8 Reasons to Never Buy Pet Store Puppies.

    Always leave breeding to the experts

    Always leave breeding to the experts

    Author Bio

    Becky Casale is the author of Sheltie Planet and Science Me. She lives in New Zealand with her partner, their two children, and their Sheltie Piper.


    Shelties: The Complete Pet Owner's Guide Ebook